The Clash: London Calling

“A classic rock album which, literally, defines the state of rock and roll and against which the very best of [the 1980s] will have to be judged.” – Michael Goldberg (Down Beat journalist)the clash london calling

I began London Calling by the Clash expecting not to like it at all. Punk…eh. I was pleasantly surprised at the wealth of material that was evident in this album. So much so, that it has taken me a couple days just to listen to (granted, I had to do other things in between listens).

One reason why I actually liked this album was the wide variety of styles that is evident in the songs. Some of the styles that I noticed were punk, reggae, pop, R&B, jazz, hard rock, rockabilly, and ska. I was never sure what I was going to hear and when a new style would pop up. It made for a really interesting listen.

The messages within the songs were interesting also. It seemed Bob Dylanesque in the directness of the lyrics in addressing social issues. Some of these messages included unemployment, racial conflict, the responsibilities of adults, and drug use. The songs also featured real and fictional characters, making them seem like a story or a parable. The songs were generally based on London, hence London Calling.

This album was completely different from what I expected in a very good way. It is, again, an album that I may not listen to regularly but I think that I will relisten at some point. I missed so much during my listening because there was so much to hear.

This is a big album – 19 tracks. So, if you’re wanting to listen in one sitting, be prepared.

London Calling is the third studio album from The Clash, an English punk rock band. It was released in the UK on December 14, 1979 by CBS Records and in the US I January 1980 by Epic Records. The album ranked #8 on Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Albums of All Time in 2003. It was a top 10 album in the UK. It has sold over 5 million copies worldwide and was certified platinum in the US.

  1. London Calling
    1. “phony Beatle mania has bitten the dust”
    2. Heavy drums and electric guitar
    3. Lead singer and background vocals
    4. Background vocals sing: “London calling” as a call to the lead singer
    5. Partially influenced by March 1979 accident at a nuclear reactor at Three Mile Island in Pennsylvania
  2. Brand New Cadillac
    1. Familiar bass line to lead the song
      1. Sounds like a line from a 50s tune
    2. Short song
  3. Jimmy Jazz
    1. Electric guitar + bass + whistle?
    2. Bass line – walking bass
    3. Combo of jazz + punk
    4. Horn solo & section comes in after solo
  4. Hateful
    1. Call and response between lead singer and backing vocals
    2. “Anything I want/He gives it to me/Anything I want/He gives it but not for free/Hateful”
    3. Drum and bass driven
  5. Rudie Can’t Fail
    1. Fun rhythm motif
      1. Almost feels like a rhythm from 50s-60s or latiny
    2. Brass section
    3. Mixes elements of pop, soul, and reggae
  6. Spanish Bombs
    1. Different lead vocalist?
      1. Voice sounds lower
    2. More group singing than in the previous songs
    3. Spanish words thru part of the song
  7. The Right Profile
    1. Brass instruments
    2. Electric guitar solo? Sounds kind of like electric guitar but not at the same time
    3. Saxophone solo
  8. Lost in the Supermarket
    1. Softer overall
    2. Tom-tom drums?
    3. Electric guitar solo/electric instrument of some sort
    4. Hi-hat and bass – light drums toward end
  9. Clampdown
    1. Speech-song at the beginning
    2. Drum, bass, and electric guitar heavy
    3. Much of the vocal during the verses is lower register and only operates over a very few notes
    4. Fight the status quo.
    5. Not my favorite. Just eh.
  10. The Guns of Brixton
    1. Instrument that makes the “boing” noise
    2. Sounds like some of the drums could be bongos – but probably just part of the drum set
  11. Wrong ‘Em Boyo
    1. Vocal from beginning
    2. Brass/woodwind instruments backing, along with keyboard/synth, drums, bass, and guitar
    3. Solo saxophone sections
      1. Sounds very jazz-like
  12. Death or Glory
    1. Guitar/bass/drum driven
    2. Heavily instrumental; voice is nearly secondary
    3. Eh. Too repetitive for me.
  13. Koka Kola
    1. Fast, short song
    2. Very wordy
    3. Light on instruments as compared to some of the most recently played songs – drums/bass/guitar/voice
  14. The Card Cheat
    1. Piano call and bass/drums answer
    2. Rhythm/bass line very familiar
    3. Piano more fundamental to this piece than others
  15. Lover’s Rock
    1. Vocal harmonies
      1. Lead singer lower register than backing vocals
    2. Auxiliary percussion in background
      1. Shakers, whistle, guiro, etc.
  16. Four Horsemen
    1. Short
    2. Nothing is really standing out to me. It sounds like some of the other songs.
  17. I’m Not Down
    1. Sounds like a Beatles tune on punk
    2. About 1 minute in, rhythm change. Very distinctive from the other songs/moments in this album.
  18. Revolution Rock
    1. Begins with brass and electric guitar
    2. Sounds a bit Jamaican, would that be Reggae?
  19. Train in Vain
    1. More than one vocalist singing all the lyrics
      1. Dubbed or more than one person?

Is the use of horns (brass/saxophone) a traditional characteristic in punk? It seems quite prevalent in this album.

The Clash Personnel:

  • Joe Strummer: lead vocals, backing vocals, rhythm guitar, piano
  • Mick Jones: lead guitar, piano, harmonica, lead and backing vocals
  • Paul Simonon: bass guitar, backing vocals, lead vocals on “The Guns of Brixton”
  • Topper Headon: drums, percussion

Additional Musicians:

  • Mickey Gallagher: organ
  • The Irish Horns: brass

Production Personnel:

  • Guy Stevens: producer
  • Bill Price: engineer
  • Jerry Green: additional engineer
  • Ray Lowry: design
  • Pennie Smith: photography

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